AUSTIN (KXAN) - An Austin man says he was traumatized after being stopped by Austin police and enduring what he called an unnecessary search of his car, and a wrongful arrest.
Lawrence Haddad, 27, was first accused of running a red light, but says he ultimately went to jail for nothing. APD said they were within their rights to search and detain the man.
It was just before 11 p.m. on May 1 when Haddad and a friend drove down South Congress Avenue in Haddad's red Toyota Corolla. The springtime cruise hit a bump and quickly spiraled into a six-hour journey of fear and confusion.
APD Officer Kevin Garvey stopped the Corolla after saying he saw Haddad run a red light. Police say the act was not caught on the dash cam video KXAN obtained through an open-records request.
"As soon as I go to reach into the glove compartment, he says, 'you know what' just step out of the car,'" Haddad said, who said he remains anxious whenever he sees a police officer pull up behind him in traffic.
The dash-cam video shows the officer briefly asking Haddad for his license and insurance papers before repeatedly asking the young man to step out of the car.
Officer Garvey: You don't have no guns, weapons, knives? Relax, Relax, Relax. You're just real nervous man. All it is, is a ticket. Spread your feet.
Haddad: I don't understand where you're coming from.
Officer Garvey: Step back over there. So who's the boy in the car?
Haddad: A friend.
Officer Garvey: A friend of yours, right? So you been stopped before, right? So you're just nervous to be nervous?
"I was outraged. I was mad," Haddad said. "I didn't do anything wrong, like I'm an innocent guy, and you got me in the back seat of this cop car in handcuffs. ... It was traumatizing."
Jim Harrington, who runs the Texas Civil Rights Project, called the detainment questionable.
"That is not unusual behavior (being nervous at a police stop)," he said. "And all of a sudden you translate that into unusual behavior by the officer and he arrests you. I think (that) is not justified by the video."
Haddad is on probation for possessing a controlled substance. But that night in May, he said he'd been out of trouble for five months and was more worried about the traffic ticket.
"He had a hard time even answering the question," Cmdr. Todd Gage said of Haddad while reviewing video of the stop. He oversees two South Austin police sectors including the one where Haddad was stopped.
"That makes an officer start to believe, 'OK. Maybe there's something he's nervous about I need to be concerned about for my safety,'" Gage said.
Haddad was detained, and after a backup officer arrived, Garvey started searching the vehicle, looking behind the seats, under the hood, and in the trunk.
While questioning the passenger in the car, Chris, the officer claimed he spotted a torn baggie in the passenger door handle.
In his report, he wrote: "Based on my training and experience, I know that narcotics of many types are packaged in similar packaging."
WATCH THE DASH CAM VIDEO BELOW:
The following exchange is from the dash cam video.
Officer Garvey: Hey Chris, before I go tearing up this car and I find something, is it yours or his?
Chris: That's his car.
Officer Garvey to Haddad: You got nothing in your pocket?
Officer Garvey: What about in the car?
Haddad: No sir!
Officer Garvey: OK, if I find anything, is it yours or his?
Haddad: There's nothing in there.
The other piece of the baggie turned up behind the driver's seat , with a small crumb in it.
But was there even cause to search the car? APD has had a policy for almost a year where Austin drivers have to give their written consent to a search and a supervisor must be present. That policy is aimed at limiting searches that critics said were based simply on racial profiling.
However, police said in Haddad's case, that mystery baggie in the door ruled out any possibility of consent.
"The door's open, officer looks down 'there it is' (in plain sight) that's enough to search the car," Gage said.
The Police Department's policy says: "Officers may conduct a warrantless search of a readily movable vehicle if there is 'probable cause' to believe evidence or contraband is inside."
"All this is pretext ," Harrington said. "He had an agenda, the officer. He was going to search that car, come hell or high water. And he did."
A test at the jail showed the crumb in the torn baggie was not crack cocaine, as officers had believed. And after being locked up for hours, Haddad was released.
"It wasn't right," he said. "Then, I also had to pay for my vehicle, which was $171. They impounded it."
Luckily for Haddad, he can contact Austin's legal department to apply for refund for that impounded vehicle. In addition, he was never cited for running the red light that precipitated the entire traffic stop and he is considering filing a complaint with the Police Monitor's Office.
By the numbers:
KXAN asked APD how any vehicle searches they've conducted during 2011 and 2012. The department says it doesn't specifically keep track of vehicle searches.
Figures obtained through a Public Information Request show Austin Police last year:
- Stopped 179,882 vehicles. Up from 149,000 in 2011.
- 11,882 or 6.5 percent involved a search of a person.
- Of those, a full 91 percent were categorized as: non-consent searches
Under that umbrella are four subcategories: contraband, probable cause, result of towing, incident to arrest.
- 4 percent of the total searches were consent based, where a person gave written permission to have a search conducted.
- 5 percent of all searches in 2012 were missing any consent documentation.
Police say in that last figure, officers or municipal court clerks forgot to completely fill out the paperwork.
Additionally, Gage said if police have already frisked you for weapons, they can also frisk your vehicle, looking at spots where a weapon may be hidden.
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